The Tempest is a Magically Melancholic Experience

For the first time in a long time, I saw a relatively packed house on opening night. A reboot of The Tempest, William Shakespeare’s fantasy narrative playing the remainder of February at The Pittsburgh Public Theater, follows Prospero (Tamara Tunie), a critically ill oncologist who is magically transformed into an alternate world that proves to be challenging, humorous, and self-exploratory.

At the behest of Marya Sea Kaminski, The Public’s new spark plug, the cast of The Tempest was all-female, and the adaptation was apropos for Kaminski, who is hurdling an old-school market with classically layered rebellion, and the result is a wide array of undulating narratives that often tickle the senses. For some, the risk produces too much collateral damage to the traditional theater experience, but the dream of pure theater is becoming realized by a new and engaged audience…A challenge of challenges for one of the cultural district’s oldest demographics.

Shifting from the emotionally transient original production, The Public’s Tempest curates a deafening slew of flawed innuendoes and misplaced emotions to tackle the most complicated and fickle part of our existence, the human soul.

Pittsburgh Public TheaterThe Tempest Review by Pittsburgh Collective
(left to right) Shammen McCune as Caliban, Bethany Caputo as Stephano, and Jamie Agnello as Trinculo

Tamara Tunie as Prospero offered a malignantly vulnerable representation of the conflicting spirits which plague us in life and death. Her bellowing presence connected with the audience, and for a moment, they windowed the most haunting aspect of our lives, coming to terms with who we are and what we will become in our fragility. Tunie was masterful.

Bethany Caputo offered a feverishly funny reprise as Stephano, a silver-tongued drunk with aspirations of mutiny, but mostly just to pick up a wig or two when the opportunity arises, and of course, a pint. Caputo was a javelin of laughter throughout the production and allowed the audience to take a breath in between the ambiguous undertones of human depravity.

And while the performance was entertaining and enlightening, and all the things theater folk say that makes them sound like theater folk… It’s still Shakespeare, though.  A litany of verbose language muffled in metaphors and metaphysical mind-sparring that can quickly lose an unsuspecting theater fawn. Thou hath trembled without faith, unto thee dying arm of mine pen…And so on.

But if you’re brave enough to tackle Shakespeare, The Tempest goes down relatively easily. The ominous whimsy extruded by the cast created a performance worthy of Xochipilli’s adulation. The fluent adaptation allowed each performer to show depth and understanding of Shakespeare’s crafty elegance; brooding and buxom, but managed by tethered exuberance through a black mirror of self-indulged exploration.

The Tempest Review Pittsburgh Collective

This is one of the few casts which pulled off an extraordinary collective effort. Humor, sadness, and effervescent nuggets of rocket fuel for the mind to digest, all the while providing delicate illusions and delusions of grandeur which would ultimately bring us back to where we all seem to end up, looking in the mirror, wandering.

The Tempest runs through February 24. For more information, visit The Public.

Photos by Michael Henninger

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